Wearable Vest Helps the Deaf Feel & Understand Speech

Engineering students at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine are developing a vest that allows the profoundly deaf to 'feel' and understand speech. Working under the direction of neuroscientist David Eagleman, director of the Laboratory for Perception and Action at Baylor and an adjunct assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice, the students are refining a vest with dozens of embedded actuators that vibrate in specific patterns to represent words. VEST (Versatile Extra-Sensory Transducer) responds to input from a phone or tablet app that isolates speech from ambient sound. The low-cost, noninvasive vest converts the sounds into tactile vibration patterns on the user's torso. Haptic feedback supplants auditory input. The first VEST prototype put together by the team has 24 actuators sewn into the back. A second version, already in production, will include 40 of the actuators.